Egg Symbolism

Eggs are common ingredients in modern cooking. Likewise, throughout the history of folklore and fairy stories, eggs are a common ingredient in magic spells. Anyone who has kept chickens knows that poultry regularly go off the lay. If your chickens are hungry, stressed, clucky or sick you won’t get any eggs. Before modern chicken farms, eggs were a luxury food item.

The Fireside Cookbook by James Beard. Illustrations by Alice and Martin Provensen. Simon and Schuster, 194, eggs
The Fireside Cookbook by James Beard. Illustrations by Alice and Martin Provensen. Simon and Schuster, 1949
Garrett Price (1896-1979) 1954 kitchen curried egg
Garrett Price (1896-1979) 1954

Symbolic Egg Associations

  • birth
  • hidden life
  • potent life force
  • immortality
  • new life and rebirth (Easter) — classic masculine mythic stories will include a rebirth. Keep an eye out for egg symbolism at this point.
  • pregnant bellies (in both shape and contents)
  • food
A-Ladybird-Easter-egg-by-Harry-Wingfield
A Ladybird Easter egg by Harry Wingfield
Niroot Puttapipat - The Red Fairy Book golden egg
Niroot Puttapipat – The Red Fairy Book. The Golden Egg Book utilises the brand name of ‘Little Golden Book’ but is also a nod to fairy tale. There’s a category of fairy tale featuring domesticated animals which lay golden eggs.
Vintage Easter card featuring Mr. Bunny painting eggs
Vintage Easter card featuring Mr. Bunny painting eggs
Maria Orłowska Gabryś, 1925- 1988 Easter Eggs
Maria Orłowska Gabryś, 1925- 1988 Easter Eggs
Charles Addams egg TV
Charles Addams egg TV

The World Egg

Roger Duvoisin. The World in the Candy Egg. Text by Alvin Tresselt

According to various mythologies, the universe is thought to have hatched from an egg. The egg origin story has been told by the Celts, Hindus, Egyptians, Greeks and Phoenicians among others. The details vary:

  • The egg comes from primeval waters, incubated by a bird
  • The bird is a goose (Hamsa) according to Hindu belief. The yolk becomes Heaven, the white becomes Earth.
  • The bird is a hen according to Japanese Shinto tradition. The heavier parts became the Earth, the lighter parts became Heaven.
  • The universe exists in a massive egg standing upright.

The Philosopher’s Egg

The egg is important to the ancient study of alchemy, the symbolic place where great transformation takes place. The egg is thought to contain the seed of spiritual life.

WHICH CAME FIRST? The chicken or the egg? Simple die-cuts magically present transformation– from seed to flower, tadpole to frog, caterpillar to butterfly.

The acclaimed author of Black? White! Day? Night! and Lemons Are Not Red gives an entirely fresh and memorable presentation to the concepts of transformation and creatiity. Seed becomes flower, paint becomes picture, word becomes story–and the commonplace becomes extraordinary as children look through and turn the pages of this novel and winning book.

First the Egg is a 2008 Caldecott Honor Book and a 2007 New York Times Book Review Best Illustrated Book of the Year.

The Djinn

There are a number of origin stories relating to the Djinn (genies, but more complicated). One origin story is very much like that of Adam and Eve: God created the first male Djinn from burning wind, and only then created a mate because men require mates. Their union resulted in 30 eggs. Each egg released a different kind of Djinn.

Easter Eggs

A Victorian postcard

Easter started out as a celebration of the Goddess Eostre. (The hormone estrogen is related to this name.)

Christians now utilise this holiday to commemorate the death of Christ and resurrection. The symbolism crosses over: Both are about new life and hope.

Wordless picture book Up and Up by Shirley Hughes is an example of a carnivalesque story which features a surprising egg (as a fantasy portal).

Egg Superstition

According to an old Ozark superstition, if a young woman boils an egg, removes the yolk, fills the egg with salt, & eats it before bedtime, she will dream of her future husband bringing her water to quench her thirst.

Sarah Nour

British sailors believed that if you ate eggs, you needed to crush the shels. Otherwise witches or evil spirits could sail the seas inside the eggshells and sink ships with their magic.

Sarah Nour

Oversized Eggs

Storytellers seem to really enjoy the idea of massive eggs. There are of course many examples of children’s stories featuring oversized objects and exaggerations of differential scale, but perhaps a disproportionate number of massive eggs?

Tove Jansson (1914-2001)
Leonard Weisgard illustration from The Golden Egg Book, with text by Margaret Wise Brown
Leonard Weisgard illustration from The Golden Egg Book, with text by Margaret Wise Brown

Below, another book making use of the egg shape for frames in a story about chickens.

illustrator unknown, 1956
Busch, Wilhelm, Herach, 1908 Happy Easter
Busch, Wilhelm, Herach, 1908 Happy Easter

We may laugh at the cartoon above, in which a rabbit shits out the chocolate eggs, but that same year, a similar image appeared in an actual children’s book.

HASENBUCH (1908) K.F.E. von Freyhold

Here are more images from the same book.

Eggs in Fairy Tales

If we take anything from fairy tales at all it is this: Do not eat the food that they give you. You will be drawn irreversibly into a world that is not your own. For this reason, fairy tale spells often recommend something that is food adjacent. When it comes to eggs, rather than eating the egg itself (a luxury item), the spell might advise to eat the sweat of an egg.

Which Came First?

Augustus Leopold Egg – A Teasing Riddle

The chicken was in the egg and the egg was in the chicken

Angelus Silesius

Green Eggs and Ham by Dr Seuss draws more on the colour green as something unnatural than upon ancient ideas around eggs. Seuss was writing in a time when people commonly ate eggs and processed meats for their breakfast.

Egg Heads

Binette Schroeder (German, b.1939) - Aurora
Binette Schroeder (German, b.1939) – Aurora
Peter Sheaf Hersey Newell, (1862-1924) egg
Peter Sheaf Hersey Newell, (1862-1924)
Denslow's Humpty Dumpty
Denslow’s Humpty Dumpty
Dorothy Muriel Wheeler (1891–1966) Humpty Dumpty
Dorothy Muriel Wheeler (1891–1966) Humpty Dumpty
Strange Adventures In The Rise and Fall of Humpty Dumpty
Strange Adventures In The Rise and Fall of Humpty Dumpty
Strange Adventures In The Rise and Fall of Humpty Dumpty
The Sun Egg - by Elsa Beskow, 1932 Swedish
The Sun Egg – by Elsa Beskow, 1932 Swedish

The Poisonous Egg

Don’t you know that eggs are poison Poison to Nomes, Illustration by John R. Neill, Ozma of Oz

The Nome King had left his throne and pressed through his warriors to the front ranks, so he could see what was going on; but as he faced Ozma and her friends the Scarecrow, as if aroused to action by the valor of the private, drew one of Billina’s eggs from his right jacket pocket and hurled it straight at the little monarch’s head.It struck him squarely in his left eye, where the egg smashed and scattered, as eggs will, and covered his face and hair and beard with its sticky contents.”Help, help!” screamed the King, clawing with his fingers at the egg, in a struggle to remove it.”An egg! an egg! Run for your lives!” shouted the captain of the Nomes, in a voice of horror.And how they did run! The warriors fairly tumbled over one another in their efforts to escape the fatal poison of that awful egg, and those who could not rush down the winding stair fell off the balcony into the great cavern beneath, knocking over those who stood below them.Even while the King was still yelling for help his throne room became emptied of every one of his warriors, and before the monarch had managed to clear the egg away from his left eye the Scarecrow threw the second egg against his right eye, where it smashed and blinded him entirely. The King was unable to flee because he could not see which way to run; so he stood still and howled and shouted and screamed in abject fear.

L. Frank Baum; “Ozma of Oz”

Denslow's Humpty Dumpty
Denslow’s Humpty Dumpty

So Humpty rolled in next door, and told the Farmer’s Wife that he wanted to be put into boiling hot water as he was too brittle to be of any use to himself or to any one else.

“Indeed you shall,” said the Farmer’s Wife, “what is more I shall wrap you up in a piece of spotted calico, so that you will have a nice colored dress; you will come out, looking as bright as an Easter Egg.”

So she tied him up in a gay new rag, and dropped him into the copper kettle of boiling water that was on the hearth.

It was pretty hot for Humpty at first, but he soon got used to it, and was happy, for he felt himself getting harder every minute.

He did not have to stay in the water long, before he was quite well done, and as hard as a brick all the way through; so, untying the rag, he jumped out of the kettle as tough and as bright as any hard boiled Egg.

The calico had marked him from head to foot with big, bright, red spots, he was as gaudy as a circus clown, and as nimble and merry as one.

W.W. Denslow; “Denslow’s Humpty Dumpty”
Helen Oxenbury - Through the Looking Glass egg
Helen Oxenbury – Through the Looking Glass egg
The Egg Poacher by Cyril Cowell 1927
The Egg Poacher by Cyril Cowell 1927

Header illustration by Carlos Marchiori for Edith Fowke – Sally Go Round The Sun 300 Songs, Rhymes and Games of Canadian Children (1969).

Lemon girl young adult novella

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